Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Harvard CS -- Growth in Women Majors

Some good news for us.   With the growth in our introductory course, more women are declaring Computer Science as their concentration.  And we seem to be growing.

Crimson article here.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Harry Lewis Asking Tough Questions (Again)

Harry Lewis is asking Harvard to confront the issue of some of Harvard's professors being involved in money-making opportunities, like working for Libyan dictators, that are embarassing to the university. 

Boston Globe article here

Harry's blog post here

I heard Harry talk about the issue on my way into work on NPR's Morning Edition -- I don't have a link at the moment.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Did the NSF Just Do Something Really Stupid Misguided?

To begin, as I always do when I write about the NSF, let me start by saying that I love the NSF, and I greatly appreciate all the research funding they give me.  (And all the rest of all those scientists out there too.  But mostly me.) 

However I think they just did something really stupid misguided.

NSF Publication 11-031, the replacement guide for the NSF graduate research fellowship program, came out a few weeks ago.  Down a ways under "Fellowship Responsibilities" (page 5) is the following text:

Fellows on Tenure are considered to be 1.0 FTE (full-time equivalent).  Consequently, when on tenure, GRFP Institutions may not request that Fellows provide service, irrespective of whether payment is received (see Stipend Supplementation for additional details).  The intent of this policy is to assure that Fellows are able to apply 100% of time and effort to their graduate studies and research.  Fellows should use their Reserve or Forfeit Statuses for activities that require service (e.g., teaching or research assistantships or internships)....
So now you can't teach or do internships while on a fellowship.  Maybe I could understand this... you shoudn't get "double-paid", of course.  Though you used to be able to teach while on a fellowship and get a bit extra pay as a graduate student, and in my mind that's a good thing.  Graduate students should learn to teach (or at least practice teaching, and hopefully they'll get better).  Indeed many programs make it an explicit requirement!  And learning how to juggle teaching and research is actually a skill graduate students should learn, at least if they're entertaining some notion of being a faculty member someday.  (And even if not, both teaching and juggling teaching and research remain useful skills for a PhD.)  I can understand NSF doesn't want universities abusing their fellowship winners by making them teach constantly (is this an actual problem, anywhere?), but there are other better solutions to the problem (like requiring someone at the NSF to approve the teaching, which some other fellowships do).

So this is stupid misguided.  But probably really not so bad -- the student can always just defer the fellowship while teaching or doing an internship, right?  (Of course, teaching alone might not cover tuition + stipend ... it doesn't at Harvard ... but let's ignore that...)

No, that's where they get REALLY STUPID MISGUIDED!

Look under Tenure Status (page 8):
Fellowship Tenure Status is granted in 12-month increments corresponding to a Fellowship Year (Summer or Fall Start) and may not be broken into smaller units spread across more than one year, except in cases of NSF-approved Medical or Military Deferral (see below).  During Tenure Status, a Fellow will generally be required to Forfeit (lose) the Stipend Payments for the months the Fellow is engaged in activities that require service (time), such as internships, teaching and research assistantships, irrespective of whether the service provides payment.
So now, if you do get an internship and decide to take it --  oops, you'll have to forfeit your fellowship for that time.  Same for teaching.  (Not sure if they'll hold to that if teaching is a degree requirement, we'll have to see.)  So they're actually creating a major disincentive to do things that I would like to tell my graduate students are useful -- like teaching, or doing an internship in a lab somewhere.  Very nice.

I'm going to find out who to send a letter to at the NSF to explain my opinion.  I hope many of you will send a letter on as well.  (If I get an address, I'll post it.)

Or perhaps I'm just misinterpreting, and someone will explain it to me.

And hopefully, by the time I next submit a proposal, the very nice people at the NSF will have forgotten about this posting.  (If anyone asks, Lance wrote this.  Or Richard.)

On a happier note, just wanted to point out that Claire's April Fools post was the funniest (theoryCS) post I've seen in a while.  (It's funny because it's true.)

Saturday, April 02, 2011

More on Academic Communications

UW Madison has responded to the Open Records Request regarding Professor Cronon (which I mentioned here).  Here's a link to the Chancellor's message as well as the response from the UW-Madison legal counsel.  Given the challenging situation the university finds themselves in, my impression (after a quick read of the documents) is that this is a reasoned response, attempting to uphold the principles of academic freedom while following the requirements of the law.

The issue of privacy of academic communications reminds me of the issues I've heard regarding evaluation letters (for promotions, including tenure cases) and confidentiality.  For instance, I've had colleagues tell me they won't write promotion case letters for the UC's, because confidentiality is insufficiently protected there.  Apparently candidates can request to see the contents of evaluation letters.  I have written a letter to a UC for such a case, and their "Confidentiality Statement" was, I must say, uninspiring.  In particular, I was told to put information regarding my relationship to the candidate "below the signature block";  apparently, when the candidate requests the contents of the letters, the letterhead, signature block, and information below the signature block is not revealed to protect the identity of the writer.  That's clearly insufficient, I think, for any reasonable evaluation letter;  it's hard to hide your relationship to someone in a well-written evaluation letters with that framework.  I'm also not clear that it would protect confidentiality in various legal settings (but perhaps nothing would?).  As I had only very nice things to say for the case in question I did not have any concerns, but if that wasn't the case, I might have had to think twice about writing, and I can understand why some would refuse to write letters to the UC on principle.  (Perhaps someone from the UCs -- anonymously or otherwise -- would wish to comment on these policies.)   

Now that I'm on the other side -- requesting letters as Area Dean -- I've seen that some people are very reluctant to write down honest appraisals of candidates, out of concern that information would be leaked somehow.  It's a concern -- we do need open and forthcoming letters to help evaluate faculty accurately -- but it's clear that the issue of how that information is protected is one that will continue to challenge the academic community going forward.